Tuesday, 27 April 2010

My sleepwalker

The phone on my desk rang. It was Silla from reception asking if I was available to see a client who was very upset and wanted to see someone right away. I asked what the problem was and Silla said the woman didn't speak much English, but that she had indicated that her son was in some kind of trouble with the Police. From the tone of Silla's voice, I knew she really wished that I should see the woman. So I shoved aside what I was working on and asked that the woman be shown in. The door opened and a 30-something year old Somalian woman entered my room carrying a child in her arms, a toddler. Following behind her was a lean, bespectacled teenager. The resemblance was obvious and I saw immediately that these two were mother and son. Mrs G's frustration was clear to see, so I did the best I could to get them to relax. I then got down to the business of finding what I could do for them. Mrs G spoke little English, but her son A, who was 18 and attended school, acted as our interpreter.

The story was that sometime the previous week, policemen had visited their home and invited A, the son, to the police station. After the visit to the police station on that date, the son had been released on bail and requested to attend the police station again today. Mrs G had accompanied her son to the police appointment this morning and, (thrusting the charge sheet at me), Mrs G said that her son had now been charged with the offence of breaking and entry.

Their neighbour next door, a female Polish immigrant, had made a complaint to the Police that she had been awoken from sleep in the middle of the previous night. On waking she realised that what had roused her were sounds and movements in her bedroom. She lived alone in her flat, and normally left her bedroom window open at night during the summer months. She was alarmed, fearing that there might be an intruder in her bedroom, so she switched on the bedside lamp. To her utter dismay, she found a black man standing before her in her bedroom. She screamed and the black man seeing that she had awakened, suddenly turned around, rushed to the open window, climbed out and vanished into the darkness, on to the roof of the kitchen extension of her building. She called the Police immediately, and some officers were sent to make sure that the woman was alright. Seeing that she was okay, the officers requested that she attend the police station in the morning to make a statement. In making this statement in writing at the police station, the woman opined that the black man in her bedroom bore a striking resemblance to the young son of the Somali family who lived next door to her. (Okay, I know all of these facts because I later got to read the statement that this woman gave to the Police. During their first visit to my office, Mrs G only told her son's side of the story).

Now, what Mrs G said to me during that first visit was that throughout his childhood, her son had suffered from somnambulism. He had been a sleepwalker, but that as he reached adolescence the incidence of sleepwalking had declined significantly. The family had been living in London since her son was about six years old, and as a child he had received medical treatment for the condition. She was surprised that his sleepwalking seemed to have resumed, although save for this present one there were no recent incidents that she knew of. She thought that her son might have been sleepwalking when he climbed out of their upstairs bathroom window in the middle of the night and made his way unto the roof of their patio extension. He must have crossed over to the roof of the neighbour's kitchen extension, crawled across that roof to the neighbour's upstairs bedroom window, which was open, and climbed into the neighbour's bedroom.

The son himself had no recollection of the incident. He told police that he did not remember climbing out of the bathroom window of their house. Mrs G said that her son's bedroom was down the corridor from hers and she had heard nothing. But his bedroom was directly next to the bathroom and going by the allegation made by the neighbour, she feared that her son might have done what he was now being accused of doing. I accepted the case because I thought this would be interesting. My client (A, the son) was due in court the next Monday morning,

Early Monday morning I arrived at Camberwell Magistrates Court and obtained the Advance Information documentation from the Crown prosecutor. He (or she) is obliged to make these available to me, wherein is contained the statement the victim made to the police and the statements of the police officers who had attended the scene. I also noted from the papers that the victim had subsequently positively identified my client as the "black man" she saw in her bedroom.

On the basis of the information contained in the Advance Information bundle I advised my client to plead "Not Guilty", which is what he did when the charge was read out to him in the crowded courtroom. Monday morning in any Magistrates Court is busy, because of the overnight cases from the previous weekend. Detained cases are given priority. These are mostly remorseful young men who let alcohol get the better of them during the Friday night and the Saturday night just gone. On this day there were a couple of wife bashers too, yes, you guessed right, one Jamaican and one Congolese..

Anyway, I said the courtroom was crowded, but half of the public gallery was taken up by what seemed like the entire adult Somali population of the borough where my client lives. I genuinely doubted that the prosecution would be able to prove, (to the standard of proof that is required), that my client
"broke into and entered the victim's dwelling place, with the intention of committing an offence", the legal definition of the crime 'breaking and entry', which is what my client was now charged with. I realised that the mental element, (the intent), was a crucial element of this offence and that the prosecution would have great difficulty proving that my client indeed climbed into his neighbour's bedroom, if at all, with the intention of doing something unlawful.

It was a 'Not Guilty' plea and so the matter was to be adjourned and a date set for trial. At this point I interjected, saying that my client would be relying on medical evidence in his defence. For this reason a reasonable period was required for the medical report to be obtained. I requested an adjournment for four weeks and my request was granted. The next date would be for a case management conference, for the court to assess the preparedness of the parties for trial.

Leaving court with me and surrounded by several loudly chattering Somali men and women, Mrs G was smiling, looking happier than I'd ever seen her before then. I shook many appreciative hands and I wondered why, since this was only the beginning of this case.

"Now to see to that medical report", I thought to myself, as I left them and headed back to the office... (To be continued)


c'est moi said...

How was it that she was able to "positively" identify him in the dark? silly woman!
I'm sure the boy's GP can provide you with a medical report/a summary of his medical records following consent from the young man & his mom.."there is usually a fee for this service" is the very important addendum i should remind you of here :)

Anengiyefa said...

Hello C'est Moi,

She switched on the bedside lamp, so it wouldn't have been totally dark in her bedroom when she saw him.

And all this happened in the past, in fact, a few years ago. It just happens to be one of my more memorable cases is why I thought to share it on the blog.

By the way its been a while since you stopped by and its really great to see you. Hope all has been well?

laBiscuitnapper said...

Intriguing. I hope this story has a happy ending...